Oct 25

WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) have confirmed that the Javan rhinoceros has been driven to extinction in Vietnam. The last known Javan rhino was found dead in the Cat Tien National Park in April 2010.

Photo of Javan rhinoceros walking through water

Javan rhinoceros in water. This Critically Endangered species is now extinct in Vietnam.

Driven to extinction

It is thought that the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was a victim of poaching, as it was found with a bullet in its leg and its horn removed. The upsetting findings are presented in a new WWF report, ‘Extinction of Javan Rhino from Vietnam’.

A survey team from Cat Tien National Park and WWF collected 22 samples of rhinoceros dung between 2009 and 2010, and genetic analysis confirmed that all of the samples belonged to a single individual which was subsequently found dead in April last year.

“The last Javan rhino in Vietnam has gone,” said Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF-Vietnam Country Director. “It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population conservation efforts failed to save this unique animal. Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage.”

Photo of a pair of Indonesian Javan rhinoceros

Pair of Indonesian Javan rhinos. Fewer than 50 individuals now remain.

Work in Indonesia ‘critical’

The Javan rhinoceros has had a tumultuous history on mainland Asia and was previously believed to be extinct there until 1988, when an individual was discovered by hunters in the Cat Tien area. This led to the discovery of a small population, numbering just 8 individuals, in the Cat Tien National Park.

A number of conservation organisations were involved in efforts to conserve the remaining Javan rhino population in the national park; however, only one sighting of a Javan rhino had been recorded in Vietnam in recent years.

The new WWF report highlights that ineffective protection by the park was ultimately the cause of the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam.

“Reintroduction of the rhinoceros to Vietnam is not economically or practically feasible. It is gone from Vietnam forever,” said Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian elephant and rhino programme co-ordinator.

The extinction of the Javan rhino from its last stronghold in mainland Asia means that worldwide population of this Critically Endangered (CR) species has now declined to less than 50 remaining individuals, all of which are confined to the Indonesian island of Java.

According to Susie Ellis of the International Rhino Foundation, the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam makes their work in Indonesia even more critical.

“We must ensure that what happened to the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam is not repeated in Indonesia a few years down the line”, says Ellis.

Photo of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in a tree

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is just one of a number of other species in Vietnam facing extinction.

Worldwide plight

The plight of rhinos is not limited to Asia, and earlier this year several reports indicated that rhino populations in Africa were also facing their worst poaching crisis for decades.

The rhino is globally threatened by the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is being driven by demand from the Asian medicinal markets.

In Vietnam, illegal hunting to supply the wildlife trade has also caused huge population declines in many other species, in many cases reducing them to small, isolated and highly vulnerable populations. Species such as the Indochinese tiger, the Asian elephant, the saola, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and the Siamese crocodile are all on the verge of extinction, and may soon experience a similar fate to the Javan rhino if conservation efforts fail.

The tragedy of the Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros is a sad symbol of this extinction crisis,” said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF’s Species Programme in the Greater Mekong, Vietnam. “The single most important action to conserve Vietnam’s endangered species is protecting their natural habitat and deterring poaching and illegal wildlife trade”.

Read the WWF press release about the extinction of the Javan rhino from Vietnam.

Read the full story on the BBC news and Guardian websites.

Find out more about the International Rhino Foundation.

View images and videos of the Javan rhinoceros on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author